The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Such Things Only Happen in Books

But when you come down to it, the rank and file — rich and poor — live much as we do. Not much plot. Work and a nice wife and a nice house and a nice Katie. — John, Such Things Only Happen in Books.
Wilder Plays
Kathleen Butler and Clayton Apgar
(Photo: Theresa Squire)
Keen Company, which for the last ten years has been dedicated to the production of "sincere" plays, apparently has a special feeling for that most sincere of American playwrights, Thornton Wilder. Although he is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning plays (Our Town, The Skin of our Teethand The Matchmaker, on which the musical Hello Dolly! is based), Wilder was also a master of the "playlet, " a 3-minute play with 3 characters who grapple with profound themes.

As part of its tenth anniversary celebration, Keen Company is presenting an evening of two such playlets, The Angel that Troubled the Waters and Now the Servant's Name Was Malchus, along with three one-acts: Cement Hands, Such Things Only Happen in Books (which serves as the title of the entire show) and In Shakespeare and the Bible. All five pieces are directed by Keen artistic director, Carl Forsman and Keen resident director, Jonathan Silverstein.

The two playlets, which bookend the evening, are both inspired by biblical stories from the Gospel of John. Now the Servant's Name Was Malchus comes from the story of Jesus's sparing of a high priest's servant. In Wilder's version Malchus (Clayton Apgar) begs God (Kathleen Butler) to make people stop talking about him back on earth so he can have some peace and quiet. The last piece, The Angel that Troubled the Waters is inspired by the story of how Jesus cured an invalid by a sacred pool called Bethesda. In Wilder's play an angel (Sue Cremin) cures the sick.

Cement Hands and In Shakespeare and the Bible are part of a larger, unfinished series on the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Ages of Man which Wilder intended to write in the late 50s and early 60s. Cement Hands is about avarice, most specifically the stinginess of New England millionaires such as Roger Osterman (Clayton Apgar) whose plan to marry Diana Colvin (Pepper Binkley) is foiled when her uncle, Edward Blake (Kevin Hogan), reveals Osterman's true nature to his niece. In Shakespeare and the Bible, about wrath, Wilder shows how "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," when the former madam, Mrs. Mowbrey (Kathleen Butler), decides to get even with her sister by wrecking the life of her niece, Katy (Pepper Brinkley).

Such Things Only Happen in Books takes an amused look at the nature of reality and its relationship to art. Its hero, a novelist named John (Paul Niebanck), tries to find grist for his literary mill, ignoring that it lies all around him.

This is a pithy evening indeed! Unfortunately, wise lessons do not necessarily make good theater. For the most part these plays are ponderous, vague and lacking in direction. People who are not familiar with the Gospel of John will not get much out of the playlets, and only In Shakespeare and the Bible has even the faintest hint of dramatic conflict.

These plays might do very well in Sunday school, perhaps with a discussion afterwards. On a public stage they fall flat. Doubtless the Keen Company was overwhelmed with good will and a love of Thornton Wilder. But even the best playwright is not always at his best. And when this happens, even a fine company cannot save him.

Editor's Note: This is the Keen's third Wilder evening. In 2005 they prsented two of his one acts The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden & Pullman Car Hiawatha and in 2006 Matthew Burnet's adaptation of Wilder's novel Theophilus North

Such Things Only Happen in Books
5 short plays by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Carl Forsman & Jonathan Silverstein
Ensemble Cast: Kathleen Butler, Kevin Hogan, Clayton Apgar, Paul Neibanck, Pepper Brinkley, Sue Cremin
Scenic Design: SandraGoldmark
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Musical Arrangements: Brian Cimmet
Running Time: 95 minutes
Keen Company The Clurman Theatre 410 West 42nd Street (212) 279-4200
From 10/06/09; opening 10/18/09; closing 11/14/09/09
Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday - Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm & 8pm; Sunday at 3:00pm
Tickets: $51.25
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons October 15th
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Such Things Only Happen in Books
  • I disagree with the review of Such Things Only Happen in Books
  • The review made me eager to see Such Things Only Happen in Books
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

You can also contact us at Curtainup at Facebook or Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from